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Tribute to Refugee Women - 2002-03-09

In Geneva Friday, International Women's Day, the International Labor Organization and the United Nation's refugee agency joined forces to pay tribute to women who have suffered because of war.

Refugee officials say about 75 percent of the world's refugees are women or children. Speaking to reporters, the head of the International Labor Organization, Juan Somavia, said he wanted to honor all young women who have suffered in crisis situations. "Lives shattered, educations disrupted, very ordinary hopes for a decent future, a decent job, a family, the community, a country gravely compromised," he said. "What is remarkable in the midst of all of that, is the strength of the human spirit that allows hope to survive where there is little to celebrate."

Zlata Filipovic is one of those honored in Geneva. She not only survived war but has chosen to help others. She was 11 years old and living in Sarajevo when war broke out in the former Yugoslavia. Now 21 years old, she works for reconciliation between divided ethnic communities. "You have to really work and get programs whether it is theater workshops, whether it is football matches where these children, above all, would get together, meet together and realize they have common interests," she said. "And this is not only something that I am speaking of in Bosnia. This could be applied in so many countries of the world where there are ethnic divides and people have become afraid of each other because they don't know each other anymore."

An Afghan woman at the meeting, Chekeba Hachemi, said education will be the cornerstone for rebuilding her society and healing its ethnic divide. "Education is very urgently needed," she said, "especially for women in Afghanistan. We can talk about upholding the rights of women, but if they cannot even read what those rights are or feed their children what benefit is that."

Ms. Hachemi urged those who promised aid to Afghanistan to make good on their pledges.